Going to my second prom

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Many of us get to go to prom in high school. Some of us get to go to two, Maybe even three for a select few people (at least some in my high school who were invited one or two years in addition to their graduation year.) But not many people get to re-live their prom when they are older, wiser and maybe more out of the closet about who they are. Although, I admit I could be wrong about that, because now it seems more people are coming to the realization about their sexual orientation at earlier ages. As a result of being more open at younger ages, they are more open about being true to themselves and are therefore on their way to a more positive and healthy life before the generations before them.

I fit into the generation that came after the generation that is now open to who they are, and where they fit on the gender and sexual orientation spectrums from early ages. So when I see the LGBTQ youth being completely honest and open, it makes tears of happiness form.

I’ve been volunteering biweekly with LGBTQ youth the past few months. I was recently invited to the LGBTQ youth prom for teens aged 15-18. I couldn’t help but smile at the thought of these teens having a safe place to be free to be themselves, free from discrimination and bigotry. I remember knowing of a couple gay teens in high school but sexual orientation was something that was never openly talked about or discussed in high school as a whole. Therefore, it was never really necessary that a diverse and LGBT friendly prom was required or thought of.

ss prom(PhotoCredit: Cdnet; Note, not my girlfriend and I, but these two look pretty happy.)

I was asked to photograph and chaperon the event. I have loved photography since I first held a camera when I was 11 years old. That hobby developed into something more serious over the years which has transitioned to thoughts of pursuing a career on the side of my day job as a photographer and designer. When friends or events are going on, I do my best to capture them.  When I was asked to photograph the prom, I jumped on the idea. More photographs to use in my portfolio and more images to use to practice my techniques and editing are always welcome in my eyes.

I thought my first prom was going to be my only prom. This prom happened eight years ago. I remember having no one to go with as a prom date. All of my friends had their boyfriends, girlfriends or some beautiful friend that wanted to go with them. I didn’t. I had made a bit of a friendship with the Czech Republic exchange student so I ended up asking him. I wasn’t interested in him sexually, but I knew that I didn’t want to be the only one in my friend group without a date. Not that my friends would have cared if I had shown up single or taken. Later on in the night he had tried to get in my pants but I politely but firmly shut him down. Never did I think that I would get a second chance to take someone I really wanted to, to a prom.

This prom was almost a decade after my first. I watched the teens dance with their dates, and friends and smiled. They had shy smiles, while they held hands swaying during the slow dances, and wide eyed magic glittering their eyes during the fast dances. They had their first prom be the magical dream that everyone probably hopes a prom will be.

Even though I was an adult chaperone and was not fully one of the attendees dancing with their date, I still felt that it was like I had a second chance at a prom, in a way. It was perfect. I dressed as I wanted to-not in an overpriced dress I had intentions of wearing more than once-but a suit and tie. I was taking the love of my life. I had a smile plastered on my face the whole night. Sometimes life is funny, in that it brings you back to memory lane, just in time to help you form new, more positive ones.

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LGBT youth

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I remember once upon a time as I was realizing I was not a member of the heterosexual majority. There was a brief window in time when I was in a period of self discovery where I was an LGBT youth attending university. I had an intro English class about long stories. A girl my age named Meg sat next to me one lecture. She sported a bald head, bright eyes and seemed intensely curious about life. After class she invited me to hang out with her. She led me past the room of the university’s newspaper and into a room that was decked out in rainbows and had bulletin boards plastered with notices and sheets depicting human rights and gay friendly messages. I immediately went quiet and withdrew into myself like a turtle from harm. I had lost the ability to speak.  Who did she think I was? Gay? I was not gay! I told her I had to leave and never looked back.

I had felt bad about what I had done. But I had felt homophobia that had come from within. I was not afraid of gay men but when a gay woman had approached me, I had fled because I knew that on some level I was different too. I was not ready to accept that yet. Apparently I had a lot of internal homophobia that I had to peel away in the next few years.

Recently I started volunteering my time with a local LGBT youth group. One of my exes friends asked if I would be interested. I said I’d love to help out if I could. I have volunteered two nights so far (missed others due to illness) and I enjoy it. Most nights there is a topic that we discuss. The coordinator sometimes brings speakers or activities to the youth group.

Last night there was a large turn out of a dozen youth ages 14-20 who showed up. It was amazing to see how many youth had reached a place of acceptance of themselves and others at such young ages despite the possible pressures from family, peers and society.  We spoke about homophobia, growing up, the impact of words (such as dyke, queer and the contexts behind them.)

It made me smile. It gives me hope. The future is brighter with these new generations who will hopefully bring more acceptance into society.